The pros and cons of screens in bed

It occurs to me that I don't really organise my day. Instead one or two particular circumstances give it a shape, and that may or may not help me to achieve goals for a given 24 hour period.

During my recent five week stay in Tokyo, my bed was a thin foam mattress on the floor. It was comfortable for sleep, but not to sit up and look at the screens of my tablet and phone.

So when I climbed into bed, I fell asleep almost immediately. When I woke up, I got up and went for a healthy eight kilometre power walk around the lake. I avoided the discomfort of being before a screen and so did not read and write in bed.

That was good, especially if there's truth in what they say about looking at screens in bed being detrimental to our general health and wellbeing.

sleep weekly overview pre-Tokyo

The sleep data in my Fitbit app showed that I was getting up to an hour's more sleep than when I'd been in my screen friendly bed at home. Comparing the 'before' and 'after' graphs (above and below) shows that staying away from screens in bed puts me on the cusp of being in the blue 'recommended' zone for my age group.

But it was not entirely good. What I'd done previously when I woke up was to research and write my blog. Doing the blog was no longer a natural wake up activity and instead became something of a chore. I'd have to choose to write later in the day and it would compete with other enjoyable activities such as sightseeing.

sleep weekly overview post-Tokyo

Nevertheless when I returned home to Sydney, I made a new rule for myself. No screens in bed. As a result, I've maintained my improved sleep patterns. Instead of walking around the lake in the morning, I've been exercising at the gym, something that had fallen away in the winter months before I went to Tokyo.

The blog writing is having to compete with other activities during the day proper. But I take the view that it is something I need to nurture like a plant that has been moved from one part of the garden to another.

But whatever happens, it will then be shaken up once more, when I transplant my life to another city for two months from early October.

Aung San Suu Kyi commodification hides nasty reality

In the news today is the decision of Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi to cancel her scheduled trip to the United Nations General Assembly.

The explanation is that she's having to deal with the crisis that has forced about 400,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. Obviously she also wants to avoid being called to account for her failure to protect the Rohingya from what the UN's top human rights official Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has described as 'a textbook example of ethnic cleansing'.

Aung San Suu Kyi

For some time she has faced criticism for her silence on the increasingly violent oppression of the Rohingya. As friends of mine became impatient with her during the course of the past year, my instinct was not to judge.

I told myself that she's a politician not a saint, and her continued leadership of the country depends upon her willingness to act according to the wishes and prejudices of the country's Buddhist majority, however odious they may seem to us. Her masters are the people of Myanmar - who democratically elected her - not the former colonial powers who gave moral support to her elevation to the leadership.

Yesterday my view was well articulated by commentators Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens on their ABC radio podcast The Minefield. Aly said:

'The Aung San Suu Kyi who was sold to the world, the crusader for human rights... was a creation of western human rights subcultures, of the culture of celebrity that surrounds a political prisoner.'

But in the end their guest - the Australian Catholic University's 'bitterly bitterly disappointed' Catherine Renshaw - was more convincing in maintaining that a rhetorical gesture from Suu Kyi in support of the Rohingya would 'have incredible power'.

Instead, Renshaw said, Suu Kyi's rhetoric is working in service of the ethnic cleansing. The 'disinformation' put out by her Department of Information about the Rohingya burning their own villages is 'so reminiscent of the oppression and the state apparatus of fear and silencing that characterised SLORC, the regime that kept her under house arrest for 18 years'.

The time is coming for international powers to act to avoid a proper genocide as happened in Rwanda two decades ago. Back then they dithered until it was too late. This time it's likely there will also be procrastination. But worse. Back in the 90s there was a consensus of moral leadership among western powers. But now that nationalism has taken root in so many countries, there's little support for action from powers beyond Germany and a handful of other European countries.


Link: podcast

Civil and religious marriage are best kept separate

While I was living in Europe a few decades ago, I remember a Belgian friend going home to get married. I recall being very surprised when I learned that he would have two weddings.

One was according to the laws of the state and the other followed the ritual of the Church. The two marriages were separated by several weeks. They were conducted by different celebrants, at separate venues. Each had its own guest list and reception afterwards.

After a while I realised that it was normal to have two weddings in such European countries. And it made sense. One was to satisfy the law of the land and the other was a sacrament of the Church. Two distinct means to achieve separate purposes.

In Australia, we don't properly appreciate this distinction. As a result, we tend to conflate the two. That is despite the fact that the way we conduct marriage is actually not that much different to the Europeans.

What happens for Australian couples opting for a church wedding is that the priest or minister facilitates both the legal and sacramental marriages. He or she is separately licensed by the state and the Church, and the tasks performed for each of these bodies are almost mutually exclusive.

But by conflating the civil law with religious ritual, we create confusion that makes it easy for the Church to claim authority that rightfully belongs to the state. In other words, the Church makes demands regarding sacramental marriage, which of course is OK. But it often weighs in on civil marriage as well, which is different.

Therefore I think it is problematic for religious leaders to be urging a no vote in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. The Survey has nothing to do with their domain of sacramental marriage, and they are being disingenuous if they act as if it does.

If the state weighed in on sacramental marriage and required church celebrants to marry same sex couples, the Church would cry foul. In any event, this would not happen because the Church is protected by existing religious freedom legislation that allows it to discriminate against same sex couples.

If, on the other hand, the Church believes that it can insist on its definition of civil marriage because it has a stake in the 'moral order' of society, the Survey will provide an interesting test for the moral authority it retains in the wake of its conduct regarding the sexual abuse of children it was responsible for.

Japanese creativity and isolation

In Tokyo, Summer is over and there's already a slight chill in the air. It got as low as 16 degrees the other morning as I got up for my walk around the lake in nearby Inokashira Park.

Morning tai chi in Tokyos Inkoshira Park

I've been starting my day there, along with the large groups of people practising tai chi and others making a visit to the temple dedicated to the Japanese Buddhist goddess Benzaiten.

I was also in the park on Saturday afternoon to see the Ghibli Museum, the popular tourist attraction that showcases the work of one of Japan's most famous animation studios. It's mostly booked out months in advance but I was lucky to secure one of the handful of tickets that they release online on the 10th day of the preceding month.

Ghibli Museum rooftop exhibit

The museum is a tribute to the creative process. It goes from how the animation makers are inspired, to the screening in its cinema of a 16 minute sample of their finished work. On the lower level there was a large room of mechanical gadgets that reminded me of the steampunk museum I visited in Oamaru (NZ) in January, and also some of the exhibits at MONA in Hobart.

I went to museums most days last week. On Friday it was MOMAT - the National Museum of Modern Art - to see the exhibition The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945. I was pleased to find there an explanation for why most Japanese houses in the city appear as uninspiring concrete boxes.

Kazunari Sakamoto Machiya in Minase 1970 at The Japanese House Architecture and Life after 1945 at National Museum of Modern Art

According to the principle spelled out in the notes to one exhibit, houses are intended to harmonise with their surrounds. If that is urban, they are concrete ('Tough conditions make for a tough appearance'). But houses built for families of wealth and nobility are surrounded by parks and gardens and therefore more beautiful.

On Thursday I went to the extensive NHK Museum of Broadcasting (NHK is the equivalent of Australia's ABC). It included technology dating from the beginning of radio in the 1920s, and also personalities and programs familiar to Japanese audiences over the decades. Aside from my particular interest in the technology, I was fascinated by the intersection of war and broadcasting.

NHK Museum of Broadcasting

It presented another dimension of the story I'd gleaned from my visit to the Yasukuni War Museum a week or so earlier. I was interested in that because the Yasukuni museum led me to form an almost sympathetic understanding of the rationale for Japan's entry into World War II (it was to redress Western colonial exploitation in East Asia).

My impression was qualified a few days later when I read a blog just posted by John Menadue, who was Australia's Ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1981. I worked with him a few hours a week for several years until a few months ago.

NHK Museum of Broadcasting

John wrote that 'the 200 years of Japan's isolation pre-Meiji (1868-1912) also meant that ultra-nationalism had become deeply entrenched in Japan with fear of foreigners and isolationist policies'. His point was that - in contrast to Germany - the US post-war occupation of Japan was superficial and did little to change Japan's pre-war isolationist mindset.

That explains why Japan is the most 'foreign' country I've travelled to. It doesn't 'get' globalisation. Arguably this makes it a poor global citizen, even though the isolation enables its culture to remain distinctive, ensuring that it is an interesting country for people like me to travel to.


Link: Menadue

The final stretch of my stay in Tokyo

I'm beginning my last full week in Tokyo, but far from ready to pack my bags for my departure for Sydney via Guangzhou on Thursday next week. I'm starting to fantasise about coming back here again next year.

I've become very familiar with the neighbourhood here in Kichijoji and a string of other neighbourhoods on what's known as the Chuo line that heads west from the world's busiest railway station Shinjuku.

Looking into an anime cafe in Asagaya Anime Street underneath Chuo railway tracks

Shinjuku also has the world's largest concentration of gay bars. I wandered around there yesterday afternoon, though I think all of them were closed. There were not even many people on the street.

I'd just spent a few hours at the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden which, judging from the crowds, was more the place to be early on a sunny Sunday afternoon. There is a very large greenhouse with a walking path through it. There are also paths through the gardens leading to attractions such as the traditional Japanese garden and the traditional Japanese tea house.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Anything in the category 'traditional Japanese' seems to be contained within a larger structure such as a garden or a museum, such as the Shitamachi Museum, which I visited on Satuday. Even that was very small, not extending beyond two modest sized floors. It is surprising that what I believe is the main folk museum in the world's largest city is dwarfed by others in much smaller cities, such as the Otago Settlers Museum, which I visited in Dunedin, New Zealand, in January.

Shitamachi Museum Ueno

Old buildings are demolished, often to conform to fire regulations. But I think it is more to do with the different non-material way in which Japanese prefer to preserve their culture.

I spent yesterday morning with a Japanese Jesuit whom I'd met in Sydney last month. He showed me around the magnificent campus of the Jesuits' Sophia University and St Ignatius Church. The church complex includes everything that you'd imagine a church would need, including a giant crypt underneath where the parishioners are buried.

St Ignatius Church Yotsuya

It was built quite recently, in 1999. The historic church that it replaced was demolished. A few weeks ago I was disturbed to hear of the impending demolition of Harajuku Railway Station, which has a distinctive clock tower that dates from 1906 and survived World War II. It was one of the few railway stations I've been to that is not modern. But it seems that pragmatism is going to win the day.

Airbnb room Kichijoji

I was expecting that my airbnb room (above) would be in an uninspiring concrete block. But actually it's in a beautiful simple wooden building similar to the ones that are reconstructed inside the Shitamachi Museum. It doesn't have any architectural merit but it evokes a different era, even though it is probably only 50 years old. When I think about coming back here again, I wonder whether it won't have been demolished to make way for concrete.

Understanding Japanese aggression in World War II

Tokyo enjoyed cooler temperatures but continuous rain for a couple of days last week. However that only made the Meiji Shrine - one of the city's most popular tourist attractions - greener and more lush.

Meiji Jingu reservation

Meiji Jingu, as it's known, is a 70 hectare evergreen forest in the centre of the city. It was established to honour the Meiji emperor who oversaw what was known as the Meiji Restoration. That was Japan's 19th century transition from an isolationist feudal state to a capitalist and imperial world power that had its own industrial revolution.

It was a natural progression for me to go from visiting the Meiji Shrine on Wednesday to the Yasukuni Shrine and War Museum on Sunday. The Shrine (below) has been controversial in recent years as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited there to honour Japan's war dead including war criminals, much to the displeasure of western nations and Japanese sympathetic to the anti-war movement.

Yasukuni Shrine

The museum demonstrates the humiliating cost of Japan's imperial aspirations in a chronological account of the nation's exploits in war over more than a thousand years, ending in its defeat in World War II.

It makes a very different statement to the aspirations for peace that are the focus of the museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I visited in 2012. It is effectively an apologia for Japan's imperial and military adventurism during the 20th century. Pointedly the English explanations were very well done, obviously to ensure that foreign visitors get the message.

Western Powers Encroach Upon Asia explanation at Yushukan War Museum Tokyo

For centuries Japan had witnessed Western imperial powers brutally colonising and plundering Asian nations in order to fuel their own industry and modernisation. It had an acute need for raw materials to support its own industrial expansion and simply wanted a piece of the action. In the years leading up to Pearl Harbour, it felt it had been treated in a cavalier manner when it did seek legitimate co-operation with the US and other western nations.

Self-interest aside, Japan used pan-Asian ideals of freedom and independence from Western colonial oppression to justify its use of force in establishing a self-sufficient bloc of Asian nations that it would lead. Its military targets were the various western colonies throughout East Asia.

Model 97 1937 Medium Tank Yusukuni War Museum

Obviously the facts were selected to suit the Yusukuni Museum's narrative. But when I next visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, I will be aware that its narrative is a pro-colonial one, which edits out the Frontier Wars between British colonists and indigenous Australians, and also the understandable grievance Japan had against the western colonial powers.

The maid cafés of Akihabara

On Sunday I went to Ueno Park, a sprawling green area that is home to major cultural institutions and a recreational ground that attracts many Tokyo locals and tourists. It's Japan's most popular city park.

I could go back there again and again. In fact I was there during my very brief visit to Tokyo last October, and unintentionally I happened to walk through again on Monday. There's a zoo, performance artists, outdoor sculptures, cherry blossoms if you're there in April, as well as art galleries and museums.

Performance artists Ueno Park Tokyo

I was in the mood for walking around the park, which is why I did not join queues to get into any of the museums. The one I would have most liked to visit was the National Museum of Western Art because of its listing as a UN World Heritage Site in recognition of its architect Le Corbusier's contribution to the modernist movement.

National Museum of Western Art Tokyo

The cultural institution I did enter was the International Library of Children's Literature, where I particularly enjoyed browsing through children's story books from around the world.

International Library of Childrens Literature Uueno Park Tokyo

On Monday it was Akihabara, which Lonely Planet describes as 'the belly of the pop culture beast' and the centre of Tokyo's otaku (geek) culture. I was looking for something more uplifting than the usual retail madness but that was not really what I found.

One of Akihabara's attractions is the maid cafés, an aspect of pop culture I'd never heard of and was not particularly attracted to. Waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants, and treat customers as if they were masters (and mistresses) in a private home, rather than as café patrons.

Maid cafe hoarding Akihabara

I walked in, sat down, looked at the menu and interacted with two maids before deciding it wasn't for me and leaving. With western eyes, we might wonder about the gender stereotypes - or perhaps even BDSM subculture - at play, but that somehow didn't seem relevant here.

I think it was just another aspect of the foreignness of the Japanese way that we find difficult to penetrate. Perhaps it's just their equivalent of theatrical or burlesque playfulness in the to and fro between performance artists and patrons. In fact I did have my own interaction with a maid soliciting patrons outside a cafe. When I attempted to take a photo of her, she ran away to hide in a corner and motioned as if I'd made her cry.

The rain intensified on Tuesday, so I was looking for an undercover activity. I visited a state of the art onsen - Utsukushi no Yu - which is located at Taikado, a couple of suburbs away from my room.

Please enjoy Japanese public bath

Because I am living in simple older-style Japanese accommodation, there is no bathroom. It is assumed that I will go to the public bath - or sento - which I have been doing. A sento is a simple neighbourhood facility that uses ordinary hot water, while an onsen has hot water from thermal springs and is usually much more luxurious.

The local sentos can be disappointing as many of them are rundown and purely functional. The emphasis is on washing rather than replenishing the body. It's different at the onsen, which I found much more relaxing, even though it was the late afternoon peak. There were young fathers nurturing their toddler sons in the ritual, which I'd thought had been lost on the younger generation in the age of home bathrooms.

The first of my five weeks in Tokyo

I've completed the first of my five weeks in Tokyo and established a pattern for my days.

I wake up, have breakfast and then research the part of Tokyo that I will go to for the larger part of the day.

My room is at the top of the stairs

I usually decide this at random. A friend sent me a link to an article in the Qantas Travel Insider magazine that mentioned the names of a few destinations within Tokyo. I wouldn't normally rely on an airline magazine, and I didn't exactly pour over the article. But it put the place names into my head.

I properly settled into my room in Kichijoji on Tuesday. That was after spending Sunday and Monday in the home of a friend in a residential area in the outer suburbs.

Kichijoji is conveniently located about half an hour by train west from Tokyo Station. But I did not venture beyond the immediate neighbourhood on Tuesday and Wednesday. There was plenty to do here.

Inokashira Park

On Tuesday I wandered around the shops and walked in one direction. Unusually for me, I liked the shops and found the walk a bit boring. The buildings were all concrete blocks. Something you get a lot of in Japan. It made me feel very satisfied that my room is in a more traditional style wooden building of the type Australians would call a bungalow (my room is at the top of the stairs in the photo above).

The shop that most captivated me was Mont Bell, which is Japan's largest chain of stores selling outdoor clothing and equipment. A bit like Ray's Outdoors in Australia, with more style and lower prices. They now have one store in the Sydney CBD but with a limited range and higher prices.

Selfie-takers in Harajuki

On Wednesday I walked a different direction, into the vast Inokashira Park, about three minutes from south side of the train station. It's a bit like Sydney's Centennial Park, a green oasis in the middle of the city. I think I spent about three hours there.

On Thursday I went to Harajuki, which is known internationally as a centre of Japanese youth culture and fashion. I was interested to pick up on the kawaii 'cuteness' culture that I'd sampled on Tuesday evening at the restaurant in my building.

Harajuku fast food shop

Harajuki is actually divided in its appeal - to that teenage demographic and also an older young adult international fashion conscious crowd. I'd had enough kawaii before I arrived but I did like the fashion show a few streets away where most people walking the street were dressed in eye-catching attire that seemed more expressive of their personality rather than that of the mob (with the kawaii, it was the opposite).

On Friday it was a trip to 'old Tokyo' in the form of the pedestrian shopping street in the quiet Yanaka neighbourhood. An article in the Japan Times says that 'in Yanaka, you have the history, the tradition, the temples... without any of the self-consciousness you have in Kyoto... a city known for cultural preservation'.

Yanaka pedestrian shopping street

And finally, on Saturday I went to Rappongi, which, according to Travel Insider, had 'bars, clubs and other nightspots mak[ing] it a lively address when the sun goes down [although] many of its charms are – mercifully – of the quieter variety'.

I chose to go there during the daytime, and its charms were the large green open spaces and the sense that Tokyo is really a city of contrasts.

Kichijoji's late afternoon rainbow

After a cool start to my five weeks days in Tokyo, today's temperature is predicted to reach 39 degrees. That is closer to what I was expecting than the low 30s we've had in my first three days.

We have Typhoon Noru to thank for the largely pleasant cool breezes. It caused some destruction in other parts of the country but mostly missed Tokyo.

Kichojoji rainbow

I stayed with a friend in an outer suburban residential area for two nights. It's not true to say there was no damage, as he had his standing umbrella whisked from his balcony by the strong winds.

Yesterday he was preparing to suspend the operations of his business if the typhoon made it to Tokyo. But the weakening typhoon did not even produce much rain, let alone the promised deluge.

Back in my inner west base of Kichijoji, the big event was the appearance of a rainbow after a weak shower in the late afternoon. It managed to stop people in their tracks as they smiled and pointed and took photos with their smartphones.

Palazzo amusement centre Kichijoji

The magic and mystery of the rainbow is right at home in Kichijoji, which Wikipedia describes as 'youthful, artistic and slightly countercultural'. Kichijoji is a place where the imagination seems to dominate. It has topped the poll asking Japanese people where they would most like to live, every year since it began in 2004.

It is the home of the Ghibli Museum that showcases the work of one of the world's most famous animation studios. The museum is one of Japan's most popular tourist attractions, and the advice is to buy your tickets in your home country before you arrive. I tried that but missed out as it is fully booked until November.

Hattifnatt Restaurant

There's a reason that the animations capture the imagination of so many young people and adults in Japan and elsewhere. This week the ABC radio film program The Final Cut discussed it ahead of a set of Ghibli screenings later this month at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image in Melbourne (ACMI).

The ACMI curator Kirsty Matheson referred to the moments of sadness in the fantasy that make both young people and adults reflect on their own lives. 'Many of these films are tinged with these environments that are full of magic, gods and spirits, hidden places.'

Hattifnatt Restaurant interior

That helps me understand the kawaii cafe Hattifnatt that is located on the street level of the small wooden building that houses my airbnb room (green building above). Kawaii refers to the quality of cuteness in Japanese culture.

The architecture, decor and the food all draw from childhood storybooks. The front door is only 1.3 metres tall, so most adults need to stoop to gain entry. I dined there last night and enjoyed the experience, though the very sweet octopus dish that was dominated by ketchup and mayonnaise was not to my taste.


Links: ABC Hattifnatt

Did priests really support schoolboy lovers Tim and John?

I rewatched part of Remembering the Man on iview yesterday after it was screened on ABC2 on the weekend.

It is the 2015 documentary interpretation of the tragic love story of the Melbourne Catholic schoolboys Tim Conigrave and John Caleo. They fell in love at Xavier College in the 1970s and continued their same sex relationship for most of the time until they both died of AIDS in the early 1990s.

Remembering The Man poster

The documentary followed Tim Conigrave's highly successful memoir Holding the Man that was posthumously published in 1995. It was later dramatised on stage (2006 and subsequent productions) and in a feature film (2015). The novel developed a legendary status as one of the '100 Favourite Australian Books' of all time. It is also regarded as essential reading for young males exploring their sexuality.

It's of particular interest to me because Tim and John were in my class at school and all of the archival footage in the first part of the film brings back memories of my own school days.

I'm currently assessing my school days, in the lead up to the 40th anniversary dinner on 1 September. Because I have mixed feelings about my school days, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to be there. I'm relieved that the decision not to attend has been made for me by the date's clash with my forthcoming sojourn in Tokyo.

Xavier Public Schools athletics team c 1976

I was in their class, but I was not part of Tim and John's immediate circle of friends. I was privy to few of the details of what was going on. But I knew the context very well and understand what others with preconceived notions of Catholic education at the time find hard to believe.

That is how a same sex relationship could be implicitly supported by some of the religious teachers at the school and by an ostensibly homophobic sport focused peer group. One theory is that it was because the 'renaissance man' ethos of Jesuit education prevailed at this school. This was in practice, not just in theory, and among staff and students alike.

Of course that argument is contentious and simplistic. The open minded attitude of the Jesuits at the school has as much to do with post Vatican II liberalism and confusion, and the winds of change that challenged social norms in the years that followed the election of Gough Whitlam in 1972. There's also the unexplored question of whether the attitudes of the two Jesuits as depicted in the story represented what their Jesuit colleagues were thinking at the time. Probably not.

Remembering the Man reenactment - Priest discovers boy lovers in bed Oh morning boys

In my early days as editor of the Jesuit publication Eureka Street in 2006, I reviewed the first stage production of Holding the Man. I wrote in celebratory terms about what I saw as the school's implicit affirmation of the school boys' same sex relationship.

When I presented the article for approval, I was requested to make changes. This was because of continuing raw emotions on the part of John's family and the fact that my interpretation of the events - and that of the play - was regarded as contentious and possibly damaging to the reputations of individuals who were still around.

I would be interested to know how such an interpretation of events would be treated by the censor eleven years down the track. There's no doubt it will be talked about at the dinner on 1 September.


Links: iview trailer website Eureka